The Difference Between Joy and Happiness

What is joy? What is happiness? And what is the difference between joy and happiness?

The difference between joy and happiness lives in the mind and heart.

  • Joy is a little word. Happiness is a bigger word.
  • Joy is in the heart. Happiness is on the face.
  • Joy is of the soul. Happiness is of the moment.
  • Joy transcends. Happiness reacts.
  • Joy embraces peace and contentment, waiting to be discovered.
  • Joy runs deep and overflows, while happiness hugs hello.
  • Joy is a practice and a behavior. It’s deliberate and intentional. Happiness comes and goes blithely along its way..
  • Joy is profound and Scriptural. "Don't worry, rejoice." Happiness is a balm. "Don't worry, be happy."
  • Joy is an inner feeling. Happiness is an outward expression.
  • Joy endures hardship and trials and connects with meaning and purpose.
  • A person pursues happiness but chooses joy.
Choose joy. Practice joy. Know joy. Live joy. Feel happiness.

Happiness Vs. Joy

For every person who says joy is an underlying truth that good or bad circumstances can’t dictate, and that happiness is rooted in circumstance, there will be others who think the opposite, that joy is just a state of mind, the outcome of a mind seeking happiness and focused on pleasure, pleasing thoughts and pleasant experiences.

Despite the different perspectives, the idea that holds greater sway today is that experiencing happiness depends on external factors. Happiness happens to us. Even though we may seek it, desire it, pursue it, etc., feeling happiness is not a choice we make. Joy, on the other hand, is a choice purposefully made.

Happiness doesn’t bring joy, and joy isn’t the byproduct of happiness. Joy is something grander than happiness. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, and when we find joy it’s infused with comfort and wrapped in peace. It’s an attitude of the heart and spirit, often synonymous with but not limited to following Christ Jesus and pursuing a Christian life.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” — Galatians 5:22-23, NASB

Regardless of one’s faith, joy is present inside everyone as an untapped reservoir of potential.

It’s possible to experience joy in difficult times. It’s possible to know joy or feel joy in spite of grief or uncertainty. Joy doesn’t need a smile in order to exist.

Although joy does feels better with a happy smile, joy can share space with other emotions — sadness, fear, anger ... even unhappiness. Happiness can’t.

Happiness isn’t present in darkness and difficulty. It can’t be present when its antithesis rules. But once discovered, joy undergirds our spirits and brings to life peace and contentment, even in the face of unhappiness.

Joy blooms through connection. It’s what God wants for us. Often the connection is with other people, but it can also be with pets, creation, creativity, etc.

Joy is present, in the moment. Every moment. Happiness is ephemeral and temporary. It’s mostly just passing through.

When happiness is present, it’s larger than life. It feels good, and nothing feels better or seems worthy of attention. But happiness is also fickle. It can be present for weeks on end and gone in an instant. True joy is constant.

The true definition of joy goes beyond the limited explanation presented in a dictionary — “a feeling a great pleasure and happiness.” True joy is a limitless, life-defining, transformative reservoir waiting to be tapped into. It requires the utmost surrender and, like love, is a choice to be made. Joy is not simply a feeling that happens.

Joy is also not great happiness or even extreme happiness. It is not elation, jubilation or exhilaration — emotions that may be present with joy, that may seem like an expression of joy, but which don’t define joy. In its truest expression, joy transforms difficult times into blessings and turns heartache into gratitude. Joy brings meaning to life. It brings life to life.

A girl in a yellow dress sits in a swing
Two girls smiling

Understanding the Difference Between Happiness and Joy

Understanding the differences between happiness and joy has a greater purpose than being fodder for an intellectual debate. The distinctions between happiness and joy have many real-world applications. One practical application pertains to children living in extreme poverty.

Poverty is often synonymous with despair. A heavy word, but also a word with a bark worse than its bite. Despair is like happiness in that it’s temporary, although it never feels that way. Despair is a product of circumstance, and it can’t hold a candle to joy. Joy can overcome anything and everything in this world if it’s allowed. If it’s chosen.

In choosing joy, there is hope. With joy, hardship offers growth and opportunity. With joy, self-esteem and self-respect are indestructible.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” — Psalm 30:11, NIV
Boys smiling while they have water

Help Others Experience Joy and Happiness

Please pray that the children on this page who are waiting for sponsors will reject the lie that great joy and a happy life is not possible for them. Pray that they will experience joy in its fullest sense. Pray that these children choose and are filled with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

Please also consider sponsoring one of the children. The choice to sponsor a child is a choice for joy. For yourself and for the child. Through your sponsorship, joy comes to beat back the hopelessness that poverty tries to imprint on a child’s spirit.

May you know the joy of committing and contributing to the spiritual, physical and emotional growth and development of a child in poverty.
A quote from Frederick Buechner about compassion, peace and joy.

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